A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, based on the plays by Plautus.

Original West End London Production with Frankie Howerd 1963/1965

1st West End London Revival with Frankie Howerd 1986

London Revival with Roy Hudd 1999

London Revival with Desmond Barrit 2004

Stephen Sondheim's musicals include Pacific Overtures, Saturday Night, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, West Side Story, Gypsy, Follies, and the musical compilation Side by Side by Sondheim.


Original West End London Production with Frankie Howerd 1963/1965

Preview 2 October 1963, Opened 3 October 1963, Closed 31 July 1965 at the Strand Theatre (now Novello Theatre)

The original cast featured Frankie Howerd as 'Pseudolus/Prologus', John Rye as 'Hero', Isla Blair as 'Philia', Kenneth Connor as 'Hysterium', Monsewer Eddie Gray as 'Senex', Linda Gray as 'Domina', Jon Pertwee as 'Marcus Lycus', Leon Greene as 'Miles Gloriosus', Robertson Hare as 'Erronius', Christine Child as 'Panacea', Faye Craig as 'Vibrata', Marion Horton and Vyvyan Dunbar as 'The Geminae', Norma Dunbar as 'Tintinnabula', Sula Freeman as 'Gymnasia', Ben Aris, George Giles, and Malcolm Macdonald.

Directed by George Abbott, with choreography by Jack Cole re-staged by George Martin, designs by Tony Walton, and lighting by Jean Rosenthal.

The role of 'Pseudolus' was played by Frankie Howerd up to Saturday 3 July 1965; and by Dave King from Monday 5 July 1965 to Saturday 31 July 1965. Notes: Frankie Howerd missed the performances Monday 5 to Thursday 16 April 1965 due to sinus problems. Shortly after taking over the role, Dave King fell ill and missed the performances from Monday 19 July 1965 onwards. The understudy Frank Lawless played the role during these absences. Frankie Howerd returned to the role for the last performance only on Saturday evening 31 July 1965.

The preview on Wednesday 2 October 1963 was a charity preview attended by Princess Margaret in aid of the National Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Prior to London's West End this production, with the same cast, played at the New Oxford New Theatre from Monday 2 to Saturday 14 September 1963; and the Manchester Opera House from Monday 16 to Saturday 28 September 1963.


1st West End London Revival with Frankie Howerd 1986

Previewed 8 November 1986, Opened 14 November 1986, Closed 27 December 1986 at the Piccadilly Theatre

The cast featured Frankie Howerd as 'Pseudolus/Prologus', Graeme Smith as 'Hero', Lydia Watson as 'Philia', Ronnie Stevens as 'Hysterium', Patrick Cargill as 'Senex', Betty Benfield as 'Domina', Fred Evans as 'Marcus Lycus', Leon Greene as 'Miles Gloriosus', Derek Royle as 'Erronius', Billi Wylde as 'Panacea', Claire Lutter as 'Tintinnabula', Elizabeth Elvin as 'Gymnasia', Julie Collins and Tracy Collins as 'The Geminae', Sharon Stephens as 'Vibrata', Chris Eyden, Max Cane, and Richard Drabble.

Directed by Larry Gelbart with choreography by George Martin, designs by Tony Walton, lighting by Robert Ornbo, and sound by David Collison and Martin Pilton.

This production comes into London's West End following a summer season at the Chichester Festival Theatre - previewed from 11 August 1986, opened on 13 August 1986, and closed on 27 September 1986 (in repertory) - with the same cast, with the exception of Meriel Dickinson as 'Domina', Richard Kates as 'Hero', and Lynette Dundas as 'Tintinnabula'.

Patrick Cargill's London theatre credits include 'Ratty' in Roger Redfarn's production of the Willis Hall and Denis King musical Wind in the Willows at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1985; 'Andrew Wyke' in Hugh Goldie's revival of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth at the Savoy Theatre in 1978; 'Charles Condomine' in Nigel Patrick's revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Globe Theatre in 1970; and 'Bernard' in Jack Minster's production of Marc Camoletti's Boeing-Boeing at the Apollo Theatre in 1962.


London Revival with Roy Hudd 1999

Previewed 20 July 1999, Opened 23 July 1999, Closed 31 August 1999 (in repertory) at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A major revival of the Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in London starring Roy Hudd

The cast featured Roy Hudd as 'Pseudolus/Prologus', Rhashan Stone as 'Hero', Claire Carrie as 'Philia', Gavin Muir as 'Hysterium', Michael Tudor Barnes as 'Senex', Susie Blake as 'Domina', Peter Forbes as 'Marcus Lycus', Peter Gallagher as 'Miles Gloriosus', Ken Wynne as 'Erronius', Fiona Dunn as 'Gymnasia', Natasha Bain as 'Vibrata', Rachel Matthews and Sara Hillier as 'The Geminae', Rebecca Hartley as 'Tintinabula', Ben Hicks, Vincent Penfold, Giles Taylor, and Tony Whittle.

Directed by Ian Talbot, with choreography by Lisa Kent, designs by Paul Farnsworth, and lighting by Jason Taylor.

"In Ian Talbot's ebullient, pacy revival, designed by Paul Farnsworth, Rome is a playfully silly psychedelic city, its villas a riot of Day-Glo pink, orange and blue, with deliriously wonky pillars and rashes of mosaic tiling. Living up to the childish nuttiness of the place, the cast gaily fool around with a shameless sense of fun that is catching. Roy Hudd, even if his voice sounds painfully croaky when he bursts into song, is utterly delightful because he is clearly enjoying himself so enormously... Launching into an absurd jazz dance routine, fluttering his hands and shuffling his splayed feet, he's a joy, uncontrollably grinning from ear to ear. Undeniably, you are served up heaps of juvenile humour. Props include a rubber chicken and a cuddly toy fish, the latter for a flagrantly rotten gag about duelling with pikes... Nonetheless Talbot's cast manage to be largely unseedy, being politically incorrect with a humorous breeziness that is helped by the alfresco setting... Thoroughly puerile, yet well-drilled and surprisingly charming." The Daily Telegraph

"The Open Air Theatre's revival of Funny Thing is a bit desperate to prove its credentials and ensure we have a good time. The result is over-strenuous, though Roy Hudd is a barrel of laughs as Pseudolus, the fraught Roman slave Frankie Howerd adapted from his own London premiere performance in 1963 into the camp compere of Up Pompeleii!... The blissful Rhashan Stone gawps as a lovestruck hero, Claire Carrie simpers as a wise virgin trapped in a brothel, Peter Gallaghar is a Miles Gloriosus in blue suede shoes, and Susie Blake glowers with class as the vengeful Domina. You always have a fine time, fuelled by hotdogs and mulled wine, at this lovely venue. But a funny romp can only be funny, or romp, for about two hours. The extra half hour rather does you in. It did me." The Daily Mail

"The show is in some ways an odd mix. The collaboration between Stephen Sondheim, whose first major stab at being both composer and lyricist this was, and Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, who were responsible for the book, seemed to many in 1962 a mismatch certain to end in a messy divorce... Yet its unexpected triumph, both [on Broadway] and in London, was largely due to the breathing space the songs give to a plot as frantic as a cat in a burning house... In Regent's Park one or two performances are too self-consciously over the top, and some too far under it; and since the latter camp includes Roy Hudd, whose affably underpowered Pseudolus always seems more likely to be found enjoying a pint in a Surrey saloon bar than orchestrating chaos in spoof Rome, the evening has an unbalanced feel. Still, there are compensations: Peter Gallagher's gorgeously narcissistic warrior with his shades and Presley hairdo; Rhashan Stone's Hero, who gapes with such effusive naivety at the prospect of sex you expect his jaw to reappear at the back of his neck; Sondheim's witty hums." The Times

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in London at Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park previewed from 20 July 1999, opened on 23 July 1999, and closed on 31 August 1999 (in repertory)


London Revival with Desmond Barrit 2004

Previewed 28 June 2004, Opened 9 July 2004, Closed 2 November 2004 (in repertory) at the Royal National Theatre's Olivier Theatre

A major revival of the musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in London starring Desmond Barrit

The cast featured Desmond Barrit as 'Pseudolus/Prologus', Vince Leigh as 'Hero', Caroline Sheen as 'Philia', Hamish McColl as 'Hysterium', Sam Kelly as 'Senex', Isla Blair as 'Domina', David Schneider as 'Marcus Lycus', Philip Quast as 'Miles Gloriosus', Harry Towb as 'Erronius', Alan Leith as 'Sergeant', Hayley Newton and Simone De La Rue as 'The Geminae', Jane Fowler as 'Tintinabula', Lorraine Stewart as 'Panacea', Michelle Lukes as 'Vibrata', Tiffany Graves as 'Gymnasia', Darren Carnall, David Lucas, Graham MacDuff, Matthew Wolfenden, Michael Rouse, Owain Rhys Davies, Peter Caulfield, Sarah O'Gleby, and Spencer Soloman.

Directed by Edward Hall, with choreography by Rob Ashford, sets by Julian Crouch, costumes by Kevin Pollard, lighting by Paul Anderson, and sound by Paul Groothuis.

Caroline Sheen's London theatre credits include 'Truly Scrumptious' in Adrian Noble's production of the Richard and Robert Sherman musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium in 2003; 'Sandy' in David Gilmore's revival of the Jim Jacobs and Warren Case musical Grease at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 2002; 'Jennifer Gabriel' in Eric Schaeffer's production of the John Dempsey and Dana Rowe musical The Witches of Eastwick at the Drury Lane Theatre in 2000, and transfer to the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2001; the ensemble in the original cast of Phyllida Lloyd's production of Catherine Johnson's ABBA musical Mamma Mia! at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1999; and 'Florinda' in John Crowley's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at the Donmar Warehouse in 1998.

"The comedy might be broader than a mother-in-law's beam, yet it's rarely coarse, and while there are jokes that are not so much chestnuts as great big conkers, it's so well tuned, so refined, it's a joy to behold... Scattered with Sondheim's witty, literate songs - not all as sing-it-in-the shower catchy as Comedy Tonight, perhaps, but all beautifully done - the daft comedy is only accentuated... It's up to Pseudolus to drag the audience in with a turn and a smirk, and Barrit is effortlessly ripe, winking at Eric Morecambe and Frankie Howerd without emulating either of them too closely - a grin of unabashed glee here, some eyebrow-waggling outrage there. Sam Kelly's Senex is equally cherishable, a silly old man from the dirty-toga brigade, an ancient Jack Sprat... The rest of the cast are as vivid and sharply defined as an Asterix cartoon... The staging is fully exploited for vaudevillian touches... Ultimately, the real joy here is seeing something done well. It might not be high tragedy, but that doesn't mean it's low-rent." The Sunday Times

"Larry Gelbart himself has said that if the show isn't done with really top talent, it looks 'dumb and juvenile.' But I'd be surprised if he wasn't happy with the talent which has gone into Edward Hall's new production at the Olivier Theatre. Hall's staging hits the right broad note from the start, and it never falters. Desmond Barrit plays the key role of the slave Pseudolus, in a manner which owes little to Frankie Howerd or his other famous predecessors, but which has its own unbeatable charm. He is quick rather than sly, and as relaxed as frenetic circumstances will allow... The supporting roles are virtually a succession of star turns. Sam Kelly excels as old Senex, hot in pursuit of the gorgeous airhead Philia, lechery gleaming from his very glasses. Hamish McColl, as Pseudolus's fellow-slave Hysterium, undergoes multiple humiliations with a beguiling nervous smile. Philip Quast as Miles Gloriosus, the bombastic conquering hero, is glorious indeed. Is1a Blair is suitably dragonish as Senex's wife. And it would be hard to improve on the rich assortmeny of courtesans, or on David Schneider as their spectacularly ill-favoured boss. The songs are delivered with great spirit, too." The Sunday Telegraph

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is one of the silliest, fastest, funniest farces ever to have been written. It is a pantomime for grown-ups, deliciously dirty, blissfully bawdy and as camp as Christmas... Stephen Sondheim wrote the music as well as the tongue-in-cheek smutty lyrics, and the joyous opening number, 'Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, a comedy tonight,' says it all perfectly... Desmond Barrit, slipping into Pseudolus's sandals, is his own man, likeably naughty and always funny, but never more so than when his nose is buried in a cleavage. Sam Kelly is marvellous as the dirty old man eager to get up to whatever he can when his bossy wife takes her beady eye off him, and Hamish McColl brings the house down singing 'I'm lovely,' his hairy amrpits and muscles spilling from his outsize frock. Old-fashioned? You bet; but astonishingly sprightly for a plot that predates the Bible." The Mail on Sunday

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in London at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre previewed from 28 June 2004, opened on 9 July 2004, and closed on 2 November 2004 (in repertory)